Good Vibes Only
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I get it, to an extent. Whenever there's a coaching change, the pendulum will swing from -9 Negative to +6 Positive overnight. A low 3-star commits to the old guy: "MORE FAIL". A low 3-star commits to the new guy: "FINALLY BUILDING A ROSTER OF FOOTBALL PLAYERS".
I feel like we need to talk about it, though. No, this is not "you're all wrong". No, this is not "Lovie wasn't bad and Bielema isn't good". I just feel like we need to talk about the Good Vibes Only mood right now. It's totally and completely fine and doesn't need to change. It simply needs to be acknowledged. Let's use the example of offensive coordinator Tony Petersen.
Say Josh Whitman comes out on December 20th and says "we need to make some changes to the football program but we're sticking with the main guy in charge". Instead of firing Lovie, he pulls a Guenther 2009: tells the coach that he must hire brand new offensive and defensive coordinators. Rod Smith is gone, Lovie reorganizes the defensive staff to make room for a coordinator not named Lovie Smith.
Lovie conducts an offensive coordinator search and lands on the App State OC, Tony Petersen. There's probably a Tennessee/Schiano-like protest outside the Grange Grove, right? Lovie fires Rod Smith and hires a guy who hasn't had a P5 coordinator spot since 2006? Someone who bounced around as a QB coach after Mason and his staff were fired at Minnesota in 2006 (Iowa State, then South Dakota, then Marshall) until finally landing another OC spot at Louisiana Tech in 2013. Then he held three different G5 coordinator spots (La Tech, East Carolina, App State), split around one year as an analyst at Missouri, before getting another P5 coordinator job.
If Lovie Smith pays that person $750,000 to fix a broken Illinois offense, there's a massive backlash. But there hasn't been that backlash. We're in a Good Vibes Only phase.
Stop. This post is not what you're thinking it is. This is not "the fanbase was unfair to Lovie". The fanbase was perfectly fair to Lovie. And it would have been fair for the fanbase to question the hire of Tony Petersen under a head coach who did not pay attention to the offense. Yes, there's a difference between Petersen being hired as OC for Lovie (which was "head coach - offense") vs. Petersen being hired as OC for Bielema (which is "fits the vision I have for this Big Ten offense").
I'm just pointing to the current mood. Had I written the Joshua McCray LLUOI post with Lovie as head coach, the comments would have been "2 Cruises is too high". I wrote it with Bielema as coach, and the comments are "Robert in a bad Cruise mood again". Same player, same person evaluating that player, but the response is different because of the current fanbase mood.
And that's OK! There's nothing wrong with it! These are fun times! They just need to be acknowledged. Current fanbase mood: Good Vibes Only.
So please keep that in mind. Please acknowledge that this is why you'll take offense to these next few paragraphs.
DC Ryan Walters wasn't the high-energy guy was expecting on the introductory Zoom call on Friday. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but because of his age, I was expecting a high-energy recruiter type. He's much more like Lovie - even-keeled, unexcitable.
I blame Bart Miller for this take. Miller is 35; Walters is 34. Miller made me say things like this during his presser:
Prediction: when @MartinOD64 watches this Bart Miller press conference, right when Bart gets to the part about wanting his OL to be the toughest/meanest/nastiest players in the field, Martin will rip a sconce off the wall and chew it in half.— Robert Rosenthal (@ALionEye) December 29, 2020
I was expecting to tweet the same thing after watching Walters. But that's not who he is. That's not to say he won't be a great recruiter, and not to say he's a bad hire - I'm simply saying that he's very low-key. Think of PJ Fleck, and then think of the exact opposite, and that's Ryan Walters. Again, not an insult, not a stance - just an observation. He's not someone I would hire as a salesman.
He even pointed it out himself during the presser, laughing at the fact that the photo used for his "we have hired Ryan Walters" tweet was him yelling something to someone on the field. He said something about being not much of a yeller and how he thought it was funny they chose that photo.
He's a very thoughtful guy, though, which is probably good when it comes to coordinating a defense. Here's my question about his position switch in college and his very thoughtful answer:
So if we are just going by personality types with the assistant coaches Bielema has hired so far (and by personality type I more mean "salesman or nah?"), here's what I see:
DC Ryan Walters: Low-key, thoughtful guy.
OC Tony Petersen: More of an analytical guy, although much more energy than Walters
RB coach Cory Patterson: Recruiter, obviously.
OL coach Bart Miller: "Makes you want to eat glass and then run a marathon just to see if you can" kind of guy.
So maybe there's a theme there. If we define "recruiter" in the Ron Zook/Mike Locksley sense (it's energy and excitement and "this guy probably sleeps 3.5 hours per night and then sells people cars they don't even want"), then the coordinators Bielema has hired are more of the low-key type and the two assistant hires are more of the recruiter type.
Again, you don't have to be high energy to be a great recruiter. There have been high-energy assistants who have been bad recruiters and low-energy assistants who have been great. But recruiting at Illinois is going to require some salesmen. We've lost for 30 years, everyone knows it, and the vast majority of blue chip recruits will eliminate us before we even contact them. So it's going to take sales sales sales to get the roster pointed in a positive direction.
My observations are as follows. Patterson and Miller: salesmen. Petersen and Walters: not salesmen. Doesn't mean Patterson and Miller will get people to bite; doesn't mean Petersen and Walters won't. Just making personality observations at the outset. Which probably isn't the best thing to do in this Good Vibes Only environment.
But hey - it's a lot better than the alternative.